What we heard about the review of The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act

Summaries of engagement sessions for the review of The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act (the act) are posted here.

The summaries below present an overview of comments received from First Nation participants during government-led engagement sessions on the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. The content is based on summaries of proceedings prepared by the events' facilitators and organizers that were sent to participants, and which presented the views and opinions of participants recorded during the engagement sessions.

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Engagement sessions in Prince George and Richmond, British Columbia, have been organized by the Naut'sa mawt Tribal Council.

Prince George, BC meeting on June 20, 2017

The engagement session in Prince George, BC, was organized by the Naut'sa mawt Tribal Council.

Participants

Approximately 29 residents from different northern BC communities participated in this session. To protect the privacy of the participants, the names of individual participants are not disclosed.

Priorities and key issues discussed

Here is a brief summary of what was heard at the Prince George, BC engagement session.

The act:

  • The act should apply to watersheds and water sources to ensure they are protected.
  • Financial commitment in the act was suggested to address contamination problems.
  • Challenges with sections 7 (Conflict with First Nation laws) and 10 (Moneys collected provincially) of the act.

Governance and institutions:

  • Enforcement of the regulations should be done by a First Nation body.
  • First Nations should be implicated in the development of regulations.
  • Highest standards should prevail.
  • In addition to chiefs, councilors and operators, INAC should ensure that First Nations regional political organizations are also engaged (e.g. BC Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Summit).

Regional issues:

  • Wages for water treatment operators in First Nations community should be on par with wages offered to off-reserve water treatment operators. This would help keep water treatment operators in the communities.
  • INAC could adopt the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council water policy as a possible solution. The "Yinke Dene 'Uza'hne' Guide to Surface Water Quality Standards" should be consulted.
  • A First Nations water best practices gathering should be funded and coordinated.
  • Water operators should be protected (such as clear and concise work plans, know their roles and responsibilities and those of the band administration and council in respect of liability and responsibilities).

Richmond, BC meeting on June 22, 2017

The engagement session in Richmond, BC was organized by the Naut'sa mawt Tribal Council.

Participants

Approximately 59 residents from different southern BC communities participated in this session. To protect the privacy of the participants, the names of individual participants are not disclosed.

Priorities and key issues discussed

Here is a brief summary of what was heard at the Richmond, BC engagement session.

The act:

  • The act should address access to water and watershed management.
  • Protection of sources of drinking water, outside of reserves, should be subjected to the legislation.
  • Creation of the act should be overseen by First Nations groups to provide a First Nations perspective.
  • The act should be discarded and a process to identify the problems that exist with the involvement of First Nations, BC, Canada and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs should be initiated.
  • A working group to rewrite the act with proper input from all First Nations should be put in place.

Governance and institutions:

  • The impact of provincial regulations in the development of federal regulations should be considered (such as the necessity to register wells, the need for clarity on the ownership of the wells on reserves, the BC Water Sustainability Act states that all groundwater is under provincial management).
  • Regulations should be developed in collaboration with municipalities and the provincial government.
  • How can First Nations protect drinking water in our area when they cannot protect the source?
  • Punitive oversight is not needed.
  • First Nations members should approve the standards to be applied to First Nations.

Regional issues:

  • Participants would have needed more than a two-week notice in order to prepare adequately and be ready to provide input.
  • Another session that includes chiefs and councils, provincial and federal governments and the Assembly of First Nations is needed.
  • The issue should be brought to the attention of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, BC Assembly of First Nations, and the First Nations Summit.
  • Communities need funding for legal advice about the act and consultant to compare, assess and align all acts related to water.
  • More funding for operations and maintenance is required.
  • Wage parity is required to retain water operators on reserves (especially in small remote communities where very few people are eligible to be certified).
  • It was suggested that a buffer zone be placed between mines and the community to protect the drinking water for First Nations' communities.
  • Chiefs and councils are now civilly and personally liable for the drinking water quality on their lands but they do not have the knowledge and education to undertake that responsibility.
  • Protection of water should be a priority over development.
  • Pre-existing problems in the infrastructure must be assessed and addressed before water operators and chiefs and councils are to be made responsible.

Miramichi, NB: October 5, 2017

The engagement session in Miramichi, New Brunswick, was organized by the Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc.

Participants

Residents from different communities participated in this session. Participants in the session comprised of leaders of Mi'gmaq communities in New Brunswick and their technical experts. For privacy reasons, the names of individual participants are not disclosed.

Priorities and key issues discussed

Here is a brief summary of what was heard at the session.

Process and approach

  • For proper engagement to move forward, especially when the subject entails changing legislation that will directly affect First Nations and their rights, there should be pre-and-post engagement sessions that would ultimately provide significant and meaningful input from First Nations. Participants felt that this did not occur as a part of this process.

The act

  • The act does not provide any guarantee of clean and safe drinking water for First Nations on reserve or minimum standards of drinking water on reserve.
  • The preamble does not speak to minimum standards as a goal of the act, while residents living off-reserve have assurances that clean and safe drinking water is available to them and that minimum standards are guaranteed by legislation as a responsibility of government.
  • No funding commitment is implied in the act. Proper funding is needed for an equitable water system. There is a need to include wording in the act that minimum standards for drinking water and drinking water infrastructure will be met.
  • Section 3 on non-derogation of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights contains a phrase that is inconsistent with the constitutional requirements for the infringement of s.35 rights; the section must be amended to remove the exceptional phrase "…except to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands".
  • Section 5(3) allows for incorporate by reference of provincial laws but requires no agreement or consent of First Nations. This section must be amended to stipulate that all First Nations must agree for provincial laws to be incorporated by reference.
  • Section 13 should be amended as it removes liability from the Crown. The Crown cannot legislatively and unilaterally remove its liability and fiduciary obligations to First Nations. This section must be removed.

Governance and institutions

  • First Nations would be able to guarantee clean and safe drinking water to their own people if they were to create their own act or institution. However, their ability to do so is limited by a lack of proper funding and infrastructure.

Regional issues

  • The act alludes to a public-private partnership model, which the Atlantic Policy Congress has been exploring for the Atlantic Region. The participants soundly rejected the model arguing that most Mi'gmaq people live below the poverty line and would not be able to pay for any type of water service delivery. Also, the model would potentially leave 50 First Nations water operators out of work.
  • Rather than the federal government spending any amount of funding towards a public-private partnership model, funding should go to properly supporting capital and infrastructure within First Nations communities and promoting building capacity through training and education.
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